Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 6: The Principle of “Cherry, Plum, Peach, and Damson” [6.5]

6.5 Developing Your Own Individuality

In Dialogue of Hope, addressed to junior high school students, President Ikeda talks about individuality and being oneself.

Seeking to show their individuality or stand out from the crowd, some young people rush to adopt the latest fashions. But often, all they end up doing is looking just like everyone else. What sense is there in that?

Quite frankly, it almost seems as if there is some kind of set image of what individualism is, with everyone trying to conform to that image. But that image, in most cases, is just something created by the mass media and people trying to turn a profit, a fashion or trend that has been deliberately manufactured.

That’s why being truly individualistic is actually quite difficult. First, you need to have a solid sense of who you are. You have to open your own eyes and look at the world, open your ears and listen to what others are saying, use your brain and think for yourself, and have the courage to follow through with your convictions.

It’s much easier to just conform and be like everyone else. Even when people try to free themselves from the constraints that are holding them back, they often find themselves adopting someone else’s standards. Japanese people have a strong tendency for this kind of mass conformity.

Genuine individuality isn’t just a matter of style or outward appearance; it emanates from the inside out.

Someone has said that your individuality is a singular treasure that only you possess. It may be difficult for you to know exactly what that treasure is right now, but you definitely possess such a treasure, which you share with no one else. Each and every one of you does, with absolutely no exception!

If there are those who claim they don’t possess this treasure, then it is because they themselves have decided they are worthless. Such thinking causes one to destroy one’s own precious treasure.

Of course, even when trying to “be themselves,” there are many people who don’t know what that means. That’s quite natural. In fact, all too often what people think of as being true to themselves or exercising their individuality is something they have borrowed or copied from others. That’s why, if you think who you are right now is all there is to you, you are very much mistaken. Human beings have the capacity to change. Who you are now is really no more than the starting point for an even more wonderful you in the future.

Telling yourself, for instance, “I’m a poor speaker, so I’ll stay in the background,” is not living true to yourself. Instead, suppose you earnestly challenge yourself with the spirit to become a person who, though maybe not naturally a good talker, can bravely speak out and stop someone from bullying another, or can speak up for what’s right at a crucial moment. Then, by making that kind of effort, your own unique character will shine in a way that is different from those who are naturally good speakers. That will be your individuality.

Your individuality only really starts to shine when you strive with all your might, challenging yourself with every last ounce of your energy. It won’t if you don’t develop yourself. Only through making efforts to improve and grow will your individuality shine—just as a sword is forged in the flames. Your individuality is your own unique weapon for making the most of your life. It is your jeweled sword.

People who have splendidly developed their individuality are beautiful. Everyone finds them attractive. Theirs is not a fleeting, temporary beauty, but an enduring, lifelong one. Such people’s spirit is as bright and clear as the skies over the high plains in summer. They are never envious or jealous of others.

In Japan, there is a tendency to try to drag down people who have real individuality and character. There is a narrow-minded mentality that seeks conformism, as exemplified by the Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This is inspired by the jealousy and resentment of people who have no solid sense of identity or self-confidence and are always concerned about what others are doing, thinking, or saying, allowing themselves to be swayed this way and that.

In contrast, people who have worked hard and long to develop their own identities take delight in seeing others develop theirs to the fullest, too. They support and encourage them in their efforts. They take joy in others’ successes. And they have the capacity to work for the happiness and welfare of others.

I hope all of you will become such bighearted, truly beautiful people. Become people whom others admire and respect.

From Dialogue of Hope, published in Japanese in June 2003.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.